Keeping a piazza alive in Italy’s small mountain towns and villages is no easy feat when stark statistics point to 15,000 threatened by depopulation.
Oodles of beautiful vacant houses with tales that stretch from Italic tribes, Romans, Benedictine monks and the occasional werewolf come with the guarantee of no traffic jams, smog, noise or light pollution, but…the town’s younger members depart, seeking employment, unable to implement any dreams of developing a business locally due to the initial cost of basic rent. No doubt this is one of the simple reasons that the number of Italian citizens living ‘in Italy’ has fallen to 55 million*.
But sustainable steps can be taken that keep dreams and towns alive, like this neat initiative in the small town of Fontecchio (AQ). After discovering that the last remaining shop in the piazza, I Campi di Mais run by wool & textile designer Antonella, was to close due to renovation work being carried out on her studio, Anglo-Italian Julian Civiero and his wife Jessica knew that something had to be done to keep the town’s heart, the Piazza del Popolo alive. There needed to be a place for the older members of the community as well as visitors to the town to stop by, have a coffee, chat and learn more, and generate income.
The couple offered the ground-floor room in their house to Antonella’s wool and textile business in exchange for keeping the piazza alive, and giving their daughter art lessons. Their house was the town’s post office from Unification till 1963. Rent was not at this stage a question; instead sharing space and finding a cost-effective way to help prevent the piazza becoming but a memory to the community of 236 residents. Using Abruzzo’s traditional barter scheme it has transformed a relatively unused space into a lifeline for this particular shop-owner and the community as a whole.
By keeping a piazza alive a tourist can drop in for a tea or coffee and find something quite out of the ordinary alive & well. They may in turn share a photo, a review, or a social media posting, all of which can help foster interest in the town and provide an all important sale or commission for Antonella. This is not a fast track to golden riches that glisten, rather something recovered that many feel has been lost. As Antonella explained:
“Today the market demands us to be versatile and flexible, our work contracts expire before the yogurt in our fridge and ‘weeks’ consist of eight days and four jobs. We feel a strong temptation to recover the slower lifestyle of the mountains and foothills that govern the region, to take on the belief of those we grew up with that a sustainable life can keep a village alive. ‘Space’ is a nursery for ideas, a place where we can create a physical network and provide a meeting point for discussion, reading books and sipping a tea together. I decided to stay and to guard my territory, it is a challenge but with brave people like Julian and Jessica new paths can be drawn and a new positive horizon shared by the community.”
*Figures taken from Cerberus 2.0 & Italian National Institute of Statistics
Join one of Antonella’s craft workshops in Fontecchio or as part of ‘I Viaggi di Penelope‘, a guided 5-day hike for women only on the first part of the wool route the Tratturo Magno that connects L’Aquila to Foggia.